Southend stylist has a Royal commission
PUBLISHED: 11:02 25 June 2013 | UPDATED: 11:11 25 June 2013
THREE years ago, Southend fashion designer Joey Bevan was working as a part-time sales assistant at H&M. Today, he's hailed as one of Britain's top new fashion talents and has even been compared to the great Alexander McQueen.
From the outside, Joey’s flat in Westcliff on Sea doesn’t look like the home of an acclaimed designer – the doorbell doesn’t even work when I arrive! Inside, however, it is a hive of creative activity.
Joey and his assistants are preparing for the highlight of his career so far – his collection of 27 designs for the Coronation Festival, to take place in Buckingham Palace Gardens from July 11 to 14.
The festival, to mark 60 years since the Queen’s Coronation, is hosted by the Royal Warrant Holders’ Association and will showcase the products of more than 200 suppliers to the Royal households.
Organised by Essex company Media10, the festival will feature a series of garden catwalk shows produced by Lindsey Hunt, in which Joey’s creations will play a starring role. Most will feature in the Reinvention section, in which Joey will recycle products from Royal Warrant holders as diverse as car builders to carpet makers to create imaginative, innovative designs. But his work will also feature in three other Royal Warrant Holder-themed catwalk shows, namely the Vintage Picnic, the Best of British and Diamonds and Pearls. Joey is thrilled to have been asked to design 27 outfits for the festival.
‘It’s just an incredible honour,’ says the Basildon boy, who’s just turned 28. ‘This is going to be the biggest thing I’ve ever done. I’m really excited, but so nervous, because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m putting my heart and soul into it.’
When I meet him, Joey and his team are busy cutting up lengths of John Lewis shower curtain to make one of the few designs he can talk about publicly – his stunning stamp dress. The others are still strictly top secret.
The stamp dress is made up of 72,000 stamps of every colour donated by the Royal Mail. Joey has formed them into a collage that covers the length of the otherwise transparent dress. The hat is made from old envelopes and the result is classic Joey Bevan – quirky and elegant at the same time.
Joey has known that he might be commissioned for the festival for about a year, but was sworn to secrecy. ‘I didn’t even tell my brother and sisters! But it was only confirmed in January, so we’ve been working flat out since then to create these bespoke pieces.’
Despite his growing fame as a designer, Joey remains a down-to-earth Essex boy – cheeky, chatty and fun. He’s made his name creating one-off, imaginative designs, using vintage or recycled materials. ‘I’m the recycling king!’ he exclaims. ‘It’s about thinking about products and how you can use them in an innovative way to make them look fashionable.’
Two of his festival designs are inspired by car makers Bentley and Jaguar Land Rover. He’s also designing four dresses made out of paper (he’s praying it won’t rain!).
‘Some of my designs are avant-garde, some futuristic, some inspired by the Sixties. Every collection is different – it will look as if they’ve been made by six different designers, but it’s just me. I’ve really gone to town on it.’
However, not all his designs will be quite so outlandish and flamboyant.
‘I’m usually really “out there”, but some of the stuff I’ve done for the festival is beautiful and wearable, and I think it’s going to go down really well. One dress is a big reveal. The last piece in the Best of British section is my design and I think it’s going to be a real showstopper.’
Joey was born in Basildon, one of four children. His dad works as a print finisher and his mum used to work as a supermarket area manager. It is a supportive, hard-working family. ‘It’s where I get my work ethic from,’ explains Joey.
He went to Barstable School, where he played the role of class clown. ‘I was a terror!’ he laughs. ‘I was one of those really overly creative kids who thought I knew best. I was born creative. I can sing, cook, I’m a published poet, I can draw. I can do anything creative – even DIY. But when I was there, it was all about science and maths. They didn’t seem to care that much if you were good at art. I was an intelligent guy, but my mind was elsewhere, so while we were doing physics, I’d be sketching a beautiful dress!’
He quickly learnt to be streetwise. ‘You had to grow up super-fast. I think Basildon’s better now, but when I started senior school 16 years ago, it was rough. For me, it was a hard place to grow up.’
At 15, he was given an unconditional place at Thurrock College to study fashion. He’d been making clothes since the age of ten. ‘I can remember cutting up some of my mum and dad’s socks and transforming my sister’s new Limited Edition Disney Princess Dolls into Spice Girls!’ he says. ‘My parents went mad, but my sister loved them.’
Next, he decided to make his mum a leopard-print dress on her 1970s sewing machine. ‘It was horrendous – like something Kat Slater from EastEnders would wear. My mum said, “Oh, how lovely!” but of course she never wore it.’
At Thurrock, he took A Levels as well as gaining a distinction in his BTech fashion diploma. He gained a place a Somerset College of Arts and Technology, but didn’t finish the course. ‘It wasn’t inspiring me, so I left. I decided to try to make it on my own. It’s taken longer, but I did it.’
Success did not come easily. Joey spent several years in humdrum jobs, struggling to make his name. ‘I felt lost. The fashion industry is so hard to crack, it was frustrating. I went from job to job, working in offices, factories and retail. I put on loads of weight – I went up to 22 stone. I just didn’t know who I was and wasn’t comfortable with myself. I only really found myself five years ago, and once you find yourself, everything else fits into place.’
Finally, while working at Southend’s YMCA charity shop, he created a pop-up fashion show, recycling unwanted clothes into new designs. ‘I’d buy old clothes from the charity shop, take a sleeve off one, a collar from another, mix and match and sell them for about £30 each. I’d pay the charity a percentage of what I earned as rent. Everything else, I invested back into the business.’
Eventually, his designs were spotted by an industry insider and he was invited to take part in his first fashion show. With newfound confidence, he used £5,000 of his savings to live for six months without working, creating designs and building up his business. His talent for creating original designs from throwaway materials made the fashion industry take notice. He shows me a leather coat from his Vintage Traveller collection. ‘That’s made out of an old sofa I found in a field near Hanningfield Reservoir,’ he says. ‘I just jumped out of the car and cut the upholstery with a craft knife. I even rang the council to tell them it had been dumped, so how nice am I?’
Suddenly, Joey was being hailed as the next big thing in British fashion. After the success of his first introductory fashion show in summer, 2010, he was head-hunted for Britain’s Next Top Model Live, where his Vintage Traveller collection was the surprise of the show. From there, he went on to showcase his designs at the Ideal Home Show, and made his name in North America after featuring in America’s Next Top Model Live. For the 2011 Ideal Home Show he created his Blade Runner collection of futuristic designs made out of recycled materials. ‘I used shower curtains, bath rugs, towels – anything from around the home. It was a bit provocative and unusual. You wouldn’t wear them shopping in Tesco.’
He was also commissioned to create a dress completely out of vegetables for Prince Charles’ ecological house – one of the main exhibits. ‘We had to make it overnight, so that it stayed fresh,’ Joey remembers. ‘We sewed Savoy cabbage leaves to chicken wire to make the dress and made the hat from aubergines and peppers. It was amazing! It took eight hours to make. My mum and dad and I had to fan the dress all night, and spray it with cold water.’
Joey met the Prince and made him laugh. The next day, the papers were full of an amused Prince Charles inspecting the vegetable dress. Last year, Joey again designed a dress for the Prince’s house at the Ideal Home Show – this time fashioned from wallpaper. Joey’s inspirations include Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, and he can’t believe he’s been compared to the latter. ‘That makes me really emotional – it’s overwhelming,’ he says.
In the future, he would love to work with more celebrities and to design for movies or stage shows. ‘I’m very theatrical. Imagine being the main designer for Lord of the Rings or a big stage show like Phantom of the Opera.’
It would make sense for him to move to London, but he’s in no rush to leave Essex. ‘My sister lives down the road, all my mates are here and my parents are 20 minutes away by train,’ says Joey. ‘I love living in Essex. There are a lot of talented, creative people here, especially in Southend.’